How To Build A PC

Step 4: Select A Motherboard

The motherboard is arguably one of the most important parts of any build because of the functionality (or sometimes lack thereof) that it brings with it. Since the motherboard is responsible for connecting and communicating between all of the other parts in the computer, picking the right motherboard is essential to the success of any build. If you already know what your needs are, and just need help choosing the best model, then our Best Motherboards column is a great place to start. If you’re just starting out and need some more assistance, then our Beginner’s Guide to Motherboard Selection, along with the information below should provide most of the information you need to get started.

Motherboard selection starts with the following criteria:

  • What form factor best matches the type of case you chose earlier? Although most builders will choose a motherboard that best fits in their case, it’s also possible to use smaller boards in larger cases.
  • What type of socket does your CPU use? With a few rare exceptions, the socket your CPU uses has to match the socket on the motherboard.
  • Has the motherboard been approved to work with your CPU? Sometimes several generations of processors will use the same socket and will work in older boards. However, most boards often require a BIOS update before they will work with newer processors. Also new boards released with a new generation of processors may require a BIOS update before they’ll work with some of the newest CPUs. The best resource for determining compatibility is usually the manufacturer’s website, which will often have a list of compatible processors for each board.
  • What type of chipset do you need? Motherboards come with one of several chipsets, each with their own different features that add certain capabilities to the board. If you plan to overclock your CPU, you need to make sure your choice of motherboard has a chipset that supports doing so. (For more on this, read the chipset section of our motherboard guide.)
  • How many graphics cards do you plan on using? Most graphics card use PCIe x16 slots, and many motherboards will have at least two of them. However, once the first slot is occupied, most motherboards will force the other PCIe x16 slots to run at either 8x or 4x speed. NVidia cards will only work at a minimum 8x speed, while AMD cards are capable of running at 4x speed. It’s important to read the motherboard reviews to find out how this might affect your build.
  • How many non-graphics cards do you plan on using? They usually fit into PCIe 8x, 4x, 1x, or sometimes even legacy PCI slots. Does the board you want have the correct number of slots? Also keep in mind that most graphics cards will occupy two or even three expansion slots, which may end up blocking some of the smaller slots on the board.
  • How many PCIe Lanes do you need? Motherboards only provide you with so many PCIe lanes (electrical pathways exposed by the CPU and chipset), and each motherboard can divide them up in different ways between the available slots. Nvidia GPUs need at least eight lanes each to function properly, and AMD GPUs require a minimum of four lanes each to run at maximum speed, and SATA Express ports generally require two lanes each. It's important to check the motherboard's specifications as well as our motherboard reviews to find out how this may affect your build.
  • If on-board graphics are used, how many display outputs are required. Some motherboard manufacturers are also starting to eliminate VGA ports from their newer boards, so take note of which type of ports you need and plan accordingly. Additionally, most on-board graphics processors only support a maximum of two or three displays, so be sure to read the board’s specifications table to ensure it meets your needs.

  • If on-board sound is going to be used, how many audio connections will be required? Audio over HDMI is nearly universal, but standalone surround sound systems may require optical or coaxial connections.
  • How many fans do you plan to use in your case? Most boards only come with a CPU fan connector and two to four case fan connectors, so splitter cables or a standalone fan controller may be required.
  • How many memory modules will be installed? If you plan to overclock your memory, will the board support the speeds you want?
  • How many network connections will be used?
  • How many Serial ATA, mSATA, SATA Express, or M.2 drives will be installed? Is the M.2 interface PCIe or SATA? If it’s the former, it’s probably going to have to share resources with the other PCIe slots.
  • What other internal or external connections might be required?
  • Will RAID be required? If so, what modes are needed?

Once you’ve answered the questions above, our list of the best motherboards for the money along with our motherboard reviews should help you make a final decision. If you find that you need additional guidance, Tom’s Hardware’s motherboard forums is a great place to ask questions and get the help you need.

MORE: Best Motherboards
MORE: 
How To Choose A Motherboard
MORE: All Motherboard Content

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32 comments
    Your comment
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build"
    Thank you!!

    Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF:
    https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa
    3
  • Eggz
    Great piece for a lot of first-time builders. This should have a sticky somewhere on the site so it doesn't get buried :-)
    5
  • jkhoward
    Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build"
    Thank you!!

    Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF:
    https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa


    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.
    -2
  • jkhoward
    Also... I am digging the age of some of these images.
    4
  • alidan
    Quote:
    Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build"
    Thank you!!

    Or rather, let's do what the cool kids are doing and rather post a GIF:
    https://giphy.com/gifs/the-office-thank-you-michael-scott-1Z02vuppxP1Pa


    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.


    unless i'm thinking wrong, isn't that within the power limits of a 750? im even assuming that each gpu is 300 watts and i know they shouldn't hit that even with the most aggressive of ocs

    granted there is a distinction between a good psu and a bad one, but im just assuming its a good one.
    3
  • chimera201
    Motherboard slots haven't evolved much. Wished every slot was like a USB slot
    0
  • turkey3_scratch
    Anonymous said:
    Seriously, not enough people realize how import a good PSU is. I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.


    Your point being... ?
    3
  • renosablast
    Steps 1 and 3 should be combined, and step 2 comes after 1 and 3. You better worry about the CPU and motherboard combo compatibility before you worry about a graphics card.
    -1
  • renosablast
    Sorry, meant steps 2 and 4 before 3.
    0
  • SR-71 Blackbird
    I love when you see a $1500.00 build with top quality components and then they have a $40.00 PSU listed with it.
    5
  • Outlander_04
    IMO the very first component selection for a gaming build should always be the .... MONITOR.
    Decisions on where and how to spend the rest of the budget can only be made once you know the resolution , and whether its 60 Hz, 144 Hz or whatever else is available
    1
  • MasterMace
    Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items.

    Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    2
  • MrXtreme
    Thank you for explaining ESD correctly. I have been annoyed with articles over exaggerating about ESD a lot. So just touching something metal can help? Well, next time I think I'll set a PC on my wooden desk instead of the carpet.
    0
  • kunstderfugue
    Quote:
    I love when you see a $1500.00 build with top quality components and then they have a $40.00 PSU listed with it.


    The XFX TS Bronze 550 comes down to $43 ish from time to time and that's a mighty fine PSU to power a single graphics card build.
    0
  • nitrium
    Quote:
    "the power supply is actually one of the more important parts of a build"
    Thank you!!

    While not unimportant, it gets far too much attention on the forum's here. PSU's are only relatively rarely the cause of issues, and I'll go out on a limb and say that virtually ANY modern 650W PSU (even ultra-cheap China garbage) will reliably power a single GPU and CPU, regardless of model or how much OCing you do to them.
    -3
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Quote:
    I am working with someone is heavily overclocking an i7 and two 970 in SLI as well as 4 SSD and a few hard drives, a bunch of fans, with a 750W PSU.


    unless i'm thinking wrong, isn't that within the power limits of a 750? im even assuming that each gpu is 300 watts and i know they shouldn't hit that even with the most aggressive of ocs

    granted there is a distinction between a good psu and a bad one, but im just assuming its a good one.
    You're exactly right. We've been using high-quality power supplies in most of our System Builder Marathon machines, and dual 970s was in one of the builds. The super-high recommendations you see from other sites are a response to most builders using mediocre-quality units.
    1
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items.

    Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    Exactly wrong. The first thing people do is say "I want a LAN box" or "I want a media player" or "I want a big gorgeous office PC". They're picking a case SIZE when they make those FIRST statements, so size comes first in the discussion.
    1
  • beoza
    Quote:
    Anonymous said:
    Gonna throw in my disagreement on the priority, mentioned nice and early in the article. The first thing you pick is never your case. There's 3 things you can decide to be your starting point when building a pc to make it a smooth ride; either, 1. Budget. 2. CPU 3. Graphics. By picking 1 of these 3 things as your starting point, you can have a very smooth build process. Does that mean you buy your case last? No, I've seen plenty of builds where the case arrives first as a way of storing the items, but when you want a solid build, your case is last priority, as it has no impact on your performance and restricts the size of your items.

    Even if you wanted to build an odd form factor, like an itx, you would still pick the cpu or the budget before the case.
    Exactly wrong. The first thing people do is say "I want a LAN box" or "I want a media player" or "I want a big gorgeous office PC". They're picking a case SIZE when they make those FIRST statements, so size comes first in the discussion.


    I have to agree with you on this Crashman. Whenever I go to build a new system for friends or relatives I always ask what they're going for in terms of use. I like to go with the Form follows function principle which is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.
    0